Sunday, November 30, 2008

Theologian Who Eats Up David Barton's Work & The Proper Historical Definition of "Christianity"

Kristo Miettinen and I still are not seeing eye to eye on the "Christian Nation" issue. He left a particularly prickly comment in response to my last post which I in turn answered in the comments at American Creation. But there are a few things I'd like to answer on the front page. He writes:

First of all, you do realize, don't you, that for the historical question that we are discussing, it is not the opinion of "orthodox Christian theologians" that matters, but rather the standard appropriate for historians of Christianity....You aspire to be a historian (or at least to write a book on history), so it's time to stop playing silly games with sectarian definitions and start thinking like a historian. Except that as soon as you do, your position collapses. In order to defend the position you are wedded to, you have to cling to an unhistorical definition of "Christianity", and furthermore you have to pretend, against contrary evidence, that your opponents (like Barton) cling to that same unhistorical definition, when in fact they don't (for historical purposes).

Honestly, it seems he doesn't know David Barton very well; Barton gives history an utter political and theological reading. If there is one historian who does NOT try to separate the political and theological from history, it's David Barton. Note, I'll be fair to Barton and also remark that lots of leftist historians who occupy prestigious positions in the academy engage in the same politicized readings of history (the Howard Zinn types).

But more importantly for the sake of THIS discussion, Barton's primary target audiences do NOT separate the theological and political from the historical and I see no effort on Barton's behalf to "educate" them that when we discuss "who is a Christian?" for historical purposes, we necessarily mean anything different than what your pastor defines as "Christianity." Indeed, one day they are hearing assertions from their pastor like "Mormons are not Christian" and the Davinci Code peddles blasphemous "non-Christian" positions because it denied the Trinity. And the next day they hear David Barton preach that almost all of our Founders were "Christians" and America was founded on "Christian principles."

Here is an example of a typical David Barton promoter: Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, a megachurch whose national broadcast reaches millions. Here is a report from one of Jeffress' Baptists critics:

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, preached a passionate sermon entitled "America is a Christian Nation" yesterday. The sermon was full of sound and fury signifying nothing except that the pastor is completely misguided regarding the meaning of the First Amendment to Constitution of the United States.

The source of Jeffress misguidance was cited early on in his sermon. He credits David Barton who spoke at his church not long ago.

Hmmm. Now lets see how Mr. Jeffress defines "Christianity." Here is an article on how Dr. Jeffress told Christians NOT to vote for Mitt Romney because he wasn't a "Christian" but a "Mormon."

A prominent Dallas minister told his congregation that if they wanted to elect a Christian to the White House, Republican Mitt Romney wasn't qualified.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Mormonism is a false religion and that Mr. Romney was not a Christian.

"Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise," Dr. Jeffress said in a sermon on Sept. 30. "Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult."

Now as I showed in my last post, the reason why orthodox Christians like Dr. Jeffress term Mormonism NOT Christianity (even though Mormons call themselves "Christian") is because it flunks the test for historic Christianity as set out in the Nicene and Apostles' creed. Does it stretch the imagination to conclude when Dr. Jeffress' hundreds of thousands of followers hear him preach "America was founded to be a Christian Nation" and "almost all of the Founders were Christian" that they understand "Christianity" to mean the strict orthodox Trinitarian standard that excludes Mormonism (and consequently excludes the "Christianity" of J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Priestley, Price and the other non-Trinitarian Founding Fathers and philosophers who influenced them)?

Dr. Jeffress is just one megachurch that promotes Barton's work and the "Christian Nation" thesis in this manner. There are many others, notably the late D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Hour. When you start adding up the numbers that these megachurches reach you see how Barton -- a figure that the respected historical academy ignores or laughs off -- reaches millions and, from what I've heard, makes quite a nice living (probably from speaking fees), probably far more than the respected historians in the academy whom he accuses of being "revisionists" and who in turn laugh him off or ignore him.

The next point of Mr. Miettinen's with which I disagree is that somehow "historians" would necessarily conclude that his understanding of "Christianity" is the "proper" one. Note: I think his "broad" definition of "Christianity" is defensible on historical grounds; however it's nonetheless a matter of reasonable dispute on those grounds. Certainly many orthodox Trinitarian Christians who are also historians might feel like they'd have to "bite their tongue" if forced to concede that Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Arians and Socinians were "Christians" for "historical" purposes, but not for their personal "theological" purposes.

But, it's not just "personal theology" that leads historians who happen to be orthodox Trinitarian Christians to define "Christianity" exclusively with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. Take for instance, Dr. Gregg Frazer, who heads historical and political studies at The Master's College and has served as somewhat of a mentor on this issue for me. Though he personally is an orthodox Trinitarian Christian of the evangelical/fundamentalist bent, he bases his claim that for late 18th Century historical purposes, "Christianity" equates with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine on the fact that every single established Christian Church in late 18th Century America (save the Quakers) officially adhered to orthodox Trinitarian confessions and creeds. See page 10 of his PhD thesis from Claremont Graduate University.

And if it's so "obvious" that for "historical" purposes this understanding of "Christianity" is incorrect, then why did a dissertation committee consisting of very distinguished scholars, Drs. Joseph Bessette, Charles Kesler, and Ralph Rossum, of Claremont Graduate University grant Frazer his "Doctor of Philosophy" in political philosophy based on this thesis? Further, if this understanding of "historical Christianity" is incorrect why did Oxford University Press publish Dr. Gary Scott Smith's book "Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush" which explicitly relies on Dr. Frazer's thesis and concludes the key American Founders were neither "Deists" nor "Christians" but "theistic rationalists." Now, Smith, like Frazer, is an evangelical and chairs the history department at Grove City College, an evangelical institution. But prominent secular historians have also endorsed Dr. Frazer's understanding of "theistic rationalism." For instance, Dr. Peter Henriques of George Mason University, "a member of both the editorial board for the George Washington Papers and of the Mount Vernon committee of George Washington Scholars." His book Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington (University of Virginia Press) likewise endorses Dr. Frazer's work and categorizes Washington's religious creed as "theistic rationalist" as opposed to "Deist" or "Christian."


Tom Van Dyke said...

Now let's hold on here, Jon. The epistemology is getting too damn sketchy.

---Jeffress isn't Barton. If Jeffress errs, unless his mistake can be traced to Barton, he shouldn't be dragged in.

---The attack on Jeffress you link to by this blog

uses the scurrilous "inaccuracies broadcast in Jeffress' sermon are too numerous to waste time and space enummerating [sic]," then enumerates just one. If you read the comments section below the post, Jeffress himself defends his source, Supreme Court justice and historian Joseph Story, and further explicitly says that he did not get the argument from Barton.

Neither can Jeffress' megachurch be monolitically lumped in whith the evangelical phenomenon of "megachurches." Yes, there are several who take the radical Christian Nation stance you [rightfully] oppose, but the question of proportion is getting way out of whack.

---Now we move to the Mormon question, which is not of relevance to the Founding, since it didn't exist yet. It's true that Jeffress said "it's a little hypocritical for the last eight years to be talking about how important it is for us to elect a Christian president and then turn around and endorse a non-Christian," but he's certainly entitled to his theological opinion that Mormonism isn't Christian.

But to restore what little sense of proportion we have left, the very article you cite contains quotes from [the more famous] megachurch pastor Joel Osteen that "I've heard him say that he believes Jesus is his savior, just like I do. I've studied it deeply, and maybe people don't agree with me, but I like to look at a person's value and what they stand for."

Further, according to the article, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council [Dr. James Dobson's highly visible group] says that Romney had been making inroads with evangelicals, as "he stresses his policy positions which, in my opinion, have been the strongest on the core social issues." Not an endorsement, but not a condemnation either.

So we have Jeffress and a tenuous link by association to Barton on one hand, and Osteen and Dobson on the other, with only the weak analogy of Mormonism-as-Founding-era unitarianism to bridge them.

I'm just having a problem with the solidity of the argument here. As for Dr. Frazer being granted a Ph.D for his thesis, that's an appeal to authority and doesn't make the thesis true. There are Ph.D theses all over the non-material sciences that are utter nonsense, and many books come out of Ph.D theses that completely disagree with each other.

They can't all be true. The best we can say about Frazer's thesis is that it's solid enough that it might be true. We shall test it in the coming months and, no doubt, years. In the meantime, Jeffress's preference for a "real" Christian in the White House and his theological opinion that Mormonism isn't Christian remains a million miles away from the assertion that America was founded on "Judeo-Christian" principles.

Jonathan Rowe said...


If you look at how the blog's author replied to Jeffress you'll see the primary sources also show that contra-Jeffress' claim that some Founders (for instance Washington) believed all religions were intended to be protected under the "rights of conscience." (Or at least with GW more than just Christianity.)

Jeffress is certainly wrong in saying "no serious historian...." He wouldn't know a serious historian of the First Amendment from a hole in his head.

Though his citation of Joseph Story, again leads us RIGHT back to the heart of the matter. Story himself was a fervent theological unitarian who would utterly reject the notion that such was "not Christianity." It DOES make a difference. If the government "ought" to support Christianity and not "other" religions, as many of the Christian nationalists argue, then whether something qualifies as "Christianity" (Mormonism? A form of "Christianity" that denies the Trinity and related doctrines?) determines whether it gets governments' financial support, or perhaps simply governments' "imprimatur." And we've both seen Madison's notes that argue this is NOT what government should be doing. So Joseph Story's quotation far from "settles" the matter but throws a monkey wrench into the Christian Nation thesis.

I for one would like to pin Jeffress down with these questions and see how he answers them. What does he think of a system that fervently denies Jesus' full Godhood, second place in the Trinity as the antoner of mankind. And how does he deal with the fact that Joseph Story, the figure to whom he turned for his "the First Amendments protects 'Christianity only' idea" held this heresy to be "Christianity"? I've asked these tough questions to lots and lots of religiously conservative Christians on other threads and I get different answers every time.

I'm waiting for one of them to argue for the perverse result that since Joseph Story's unitarianism was "not Christianity" it shouldn't be supported or endorsed by government and then use Story's notable quotation as authority for why the First Amendment protects "Christianity only."

Kristo seems willing to accept the poising pill that "unitarianism" can qualify as Christianity; but this is a poison pill that many conservative Christians are unwilling to swallow.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But Jeffress is not an historian nor is he a theologian. He's a pastor of a church, one of tens of thousands in America. Neither is his error [if it is one] traceable to David Barton.

If the purpose of this blog is to round up the strays and shoot them, fine. I thought the idea was to discuss religion and the Founding, and perhaps deepen our understanding.

Kristo Miettinen said...


First, let me do something you never do: I'll quote Barton.

In chapter 2 of MoS, Barton is building his case for the "orthodoxy" of the founders, and he does so mainly by borrowing from Bradford's "A Worthy Company". Whatever we think of Bradford's work, here is what Barton wants out of it: "With no more than five exceptions (and perhaps no more than three), they were orthodox members of one of the established Christian communions... [including] one open Deist - Dr. Franklin..."

As Barton wields the term in the relevant chapter of MoS, he intends orthodoxy to be polyvalent: each denomination defines its own orthodoxy. So, denominations either are or are not Christian, and members are or are not orthodox. In this way, even Franklin counts, because Franklin was an orthodox Deist (Tom disagrees, but I'm just presenting Barton) and Deism (of the sort Franklin participated in) counted as Christian.

Say what you want about how little I know about Barton, but this is not the caricature you would have us believe is the real Barton. This is a nuanced position (I would say too much so), subject to easy criticism, but it is not the position that you claim Barton to hold.

As for the rest of your "target audience" slander, look, Barton writes clearly. He is trying to explain his position, and it is out there for anyone to read. If his "target audience" doesn't get the message, then he's in the same boat as, say, the Pope on most matters.

On historians and Christianity vs. Orthodoxy, I just put up a post on AC.

As for why dissertation committees pass dissertations, really. Don't go there. We both know that the argument from authority is a non-starter to begin with, and using it with a mere dissertation committee as the authority is a double nonstarter.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"[H]e intends orthodoxy to be polyvalent: each denomination defines its own orthodoxy."


This is neither what I nor just about everyone else I've ever seen who has read Barton or Bradford takes "orthodoxy" to mean. They equate "orthodoxy" with creedal confessions that happen to all be based on the Nicene Creed/Trinitarian. Nearly every established Church in late 18th Century America held to an orthodox Trinitarian Creed except the Quakers.

So Barton appeals to Bradford's authority (a logical error as you noted) for the proposition that with 3 to 5 exceptions all of the other Founders were orthodox Trinitarian Christians.

I've studied the Bradford claim in detail and all he demonstrates is that the overwhelming majority of Founding Fathers were in some way formally connected to a church that held to an orthodox Trintiarian confession. Some people mistakenly believe that they were all church members who took oaths. But that isn't true. For instance, Hamilton who Bradford categorizes as an Episcopalian/Presbyterians became a born again Christian towards the end of his life and never "joined" either Church. Rather as he lay dying he asked for the Eucharist from both churches (he was refused from one and then given the other).

Virtually all of the key Founders were in some way formally/nominally connected to a Christian church that held to an orthodox Trinitarian confession or creed. This includes Jefferson, Madison, Washington, G. Morris (Anglicans/Episcopalians -- and we know that Jefferson rejected every single orthodox tenet that his church believed in and M&W were utterly mum on whether they were true or not; Roger Sherman whose orthodoxy is not in doubt termed G. Morris an "irreligious and profane man") J. Adams (a Congregationalist and a self proclaimed unitarian since 1750 whose own Congregational Church preached unitarianism as of 1750). Even Franklin was associated with the Presbyterian and Episcopalian Churches in his lifetime. Unitarian preachers Joseph Priestley and Richard Price were ministers in the Presbyterian Church. The New England Congregational Churches (which held to a Trinitarian confession) had more theologically unitarian ministers that I can name. A phenomenon that Barton/Bradford et al. ignore is Church members'/attenders' rampant disbelief in the orthodox doctrines to which their churches formally adhered. The deistic and unitarian minded "Christians" were the ones for instance that left before taking communion because they didn't believe in what the act stood for: Christ's Atonement.

In short, Bradford was just wrong to claim that formal/nominal association with a church that adheres to a Trinitarian creed equals those Founders being orthodox Trinitarian. And make no doubt, that is what Bradford claimed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

A phenomenon that Barton/Bradford et al. ignore is Church members'/attenders' rampant disbelief in the orthodox doctrines to which their churches formally adhered.

But perhaps it should be ignored, Jon. These were these men's public affirmations and assents. Formal/nominal? Yes, but I do believe Kristo is arguing only to that extent and represents that David Barton is too.

I don't mean to inject myself here as judge or jury, but I'm listening to the arguments here, and that "each denomination defines its own orthodoxy" seems uncontentious.

Still, re David Barton, Chris Smith's objection [which Mr. Rowe seconds] that whenever David Barton speaks---paid gig, likely very well-paid---to an evangelical audience, whenever he says "Christian" they hear "evangelical" seems reasonable, and it's at least questionable that Barton makes the fine distinctions [or expansive definitions] about the meaning of "Christian" that we're able to make here.

But perhaps he does, I dunno. But I'd never ask a man to tear up his meal ticket as long as it wasn't bought with lies.

Me, I'm happy enough when the God of the Bible figures into the Founding anywhere and don't read all that much more into it, and therefore I give the nod of importance to the first argument over the second, as it will sustain after David Barton does not.

I do hope everyone finds this effort at arbitration unsatisfactory. I aims to displease.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Re speaking to evangelical audiences, I would point out that "evangelical" is just as vague a term as "Christian", so claiming that audiences hear "evangelical" when Barton says "Christian" (if this is even true - much that is said of Barton seems unfalsifiable) may not be that big a deal. FWIW, in my denomination, the evangelicals (ELCA) are the left wing, us other guys (LCMS) are the right wing. "Evangelical" is not an easy term to pin down.

Our Founding Truth said...

Hamilton who Bradford categorizes as an Episcopalian/Presbyterians became a born again Christian towards the end of his life[when his son died].>

Hey Tom, and Kristo,

For extensive research into Hamilton's faith, I suggest looking at Herc Mulligan's Alexander Hamilton Patriot.

"As I have pointed out many times, there is not evidence that Hamilton rejected or changed his beliefs; he was obviously orthodox in his youth, and there is no affirmative evidence that that changed."

His[Orthodox Christian] friend Robert Troup who bore testimony of this:

When [Hamilton] commanded a company of Artillery in the summer of 1776, I paid him a visit; and at night, and in the morning, he want to prayer in his usual mode. Soon after this visit we were parted by our respective duties in the Army, and we did not meet again before 1779.
Taken from Alexander Hamilton: How the Mighty Are Redeemed, by Christopher Yates (2000), p. 28; quoted "Hamilton Viewed by His Friends," by Nathan Schachner, p. 213

Hamilton's words clearly support the label of Christian. Hamilton's son died in 1801, whereas Rowe then believes Hamilton accepted Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins.

However, Hamilton's words regarding Christianity did not change one bit. If Rowe is right, where is the evidence of Hamilton's conversion? There is no marked change in Hamilton's views because he had no conversion experience in 1801, rather, the evidence supports his conversion as a teenager on the Island of Nevis.

Note, Hamilton supporting Christianity BEFORE his son died:

"In reviewing the disgusting spectacle of the French Revolution..The animosity to the Christian system is demonstrated by the single fact of the ridiculous and impolitic establishment of the decades, with the evident object of supplanting the Christian Sabbath. The inscriptions by public authority on the tombs of the deceased, affirming death to be an eternal sleep, witness the desire to discredit the belief of the immortality of the soul. The open profession of atheism in the convention, received with acclamations; the honorable mention on its journals of a book professing to prove the nothingness of all religion; the institution of a festival to offer public worship to a courtesan decorated with the pompous title of "Goddess of Reason"; the congratulatory reception of impious children appearing in the hall of the convention to lisp blasphemy against the King of kings,(Jesus Christ) are among the dreadful proofs of a conspiracy to establish atheism on the ruins of Christianity,—to deprive mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes, and to make a gloomy desert of the universe..The decades likewise remain the catapulta which are to batter down Christianity.
The Stand #111(1798; emphasis original)

As you can see, Hamilton did not support rationalism, he attacked it. I apologize for the interlude on Hamilton, but I didn't bring him up.

Our Founding Truth said...

This includes Jefferson, Madison, Washington, G. Morris (Anglicans/Episcopalians -- and we know that Jefferson rejected every single orthodox tenet that his church believed>

Tom, Kristo, Do you see what's happening here? He's eliminating the majority just to make a point. But the point cannot be made, ever! I don't care if Jefferson was a Satanist! Jefferson is irrelevant, and his beliefs do not supercede the will of the majority. His will does not change the orthodox Christian beliefs of the other two-hundred fifty framers.

Although I respect Kristo's stance on the issue, I see it's a no-brainer we were formed a Orthodox Christian Nation. As to Rowe's labeling of what are the fundamentals of the Bible, the majority seem orthodox, not heterodox.

Rowe can have: Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Monroe, Story, Paine, (Washington neutral).

I'll take the Orthodox Christians:
John Jay-Chief Justice,(President of Congress(Washington's Superior)
George Mason-Father of the Bill of Rights
John Dickinson-Penman of the Revolution
Samuel Adams-Father of the Revolution
Roger Sherman-Only man to sign DOI, Constitution, Articles of Confederation, and Association
Patrick Henry
John Marshall-Chief Justice, repented of his Unitarianism and became Orthodox
Richard Henry Lee-President of Congress(Washington's Superior)
Alexander Hamilton-Sec. of the Treasury
JQ Adams-President of the U.S.
Fisher Ames-Wrote the final wording of the First Amendment
Elias Boudinot-Chairman of Committee that drafted the First Amendment, President of Congress(Washington's Superior)
Charles Carroll-signed the DOI, framed the Bill of Rights
Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice
Elbridge Gerry-Vice President under Madison, Signed DOI, and Articles of Confederation
John Hancock-President of Congress(Washington's Superior)
Rufus King
John Witherspoon
Richard Stockton

and at least a hundred more. Let's check their own words to see how orthodox they were. Actually, Barton has the quotes on Wallbuilders.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Sorry OFT but the historians who have studied this in detail -- I'll appeal to Adair & Harvey's authority -- conclude Hamilton didn't become an orthodox Christian till the very end of his life. He certainly didn't speak like one until the very end.

Appealing to "authority" might be a logical fallacy but their authority certainly brings far more weight to the discussion than that of the Christian Nationalist blogger Hercules Mulligan who has no historical or academic bona fides whatsoever.

Jonathan Rowe said...

As to OFT's "list." Hamilton certainly doesn't belong on it. And John Marshall was another with a deathbed conversion to orthodoxy (he was a Unitarian during his entire public life). And JQ Adams vacillated between orthodoxy and unitarianism his entire adult life. If I'm not mistaken he ended up a Unitarian because he's buried at a Unitarian Church that had already become Unitarian by the time he died.

But the larger point is this: It really doesn't matter IF a statistical majority of Founders were orthodox Trinitarian Christians because their theological principles in this regard do not win in a "majority rules" game. Rather "religion" relates to one of those rights that are antedecent to majority rule. And AS SUCH if given so many heterodox figures played leading roles at the Founding, at best for your side, their religious principles were a compromise or a lowest common denominator between the heterodox thinkers or the one hand and the orthodox figures on the other. Jefferson, J. Adams, G. Morris and Franklin would not have agreed to assent to any principles which violated their theology any more than the orthodox would agree to principles that violated theirs.

The common ground in which they were agreed is that there is an overriding Providence who will ultimately reward good and punish evil and that "religion" (in a general sense) ought to flourish because it is necessary for republican self-government. Questions like original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Eternal Damnation, and infallibility of the Bible would play NO PART whatsoever in America's Founding political theology. Rather those religious tenets were driven from Founding era politics and consigned to the private realm of "conscience" or "opinion."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Let me say one other things about OFT and the blogger Hercules Mulligan to which he appeals. Both are evangelicals Christians who believe in a "Christ only" Sola Scriptura form of Protestant fundamentalism. They believe you must be "born again" in order to be saved and notoriously revise the Founding era record to attempt to claim the Founders as this specific type of "Christian." Indeed if you are not this specific type of Christian then you aren't a "Christian." H. Mulligan (who admittedly never took a college class in his life) has made such "claims" as George Washington was a Christian but Augustine probably wasn't.

THEY are the types of folks that Barton speaks to.

Even towards the end of his life I doubt Hamilton would have met their standard for "born-again" Christianity. They try to make square peg figures like Hamilton fit into round holes because they want to claim them.

I noted as evidence for Hamilton's end of life conversion the fact that he never joined a Church: Their reply: You don't need to join a church to be a Christian (Christ only, sola scriptura). Or that GW systematically avoided communion: HM's answer: Ditto.

But here's the problem. The evidence pretty indisputably shows that Hamilton thought communion pretty damn important just before he was about to die; indeed he begged for it and was catatonic that he might not get it. Even when he became orthodox, he still didn't seem to be one of these Sola Scriptura Christ only born-again Christians who thinks communion not important.

Yet, even as he lay dying, he had not gotten around to joining ANY church. So if communion was so important to Hamilton as he lay dying and if he was NOT a member of any church, from where was he getting the Lord's Supper for all of those years he was a Christian?

The obvious answer is he didn't become an orthodox Christian until the very end of his life. Even though he did have an end of life experience that one could arguably categorize as "born again" he nonetheless NEVER referred to himself as a "born again" Christian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hamilton's 1798 condemnation of the godless French revolution is a very powerful document and I shall use it in future.

That he regarded Jesus as the King of Kings is a sufficient enough definition of "Christian."

And Jon, since when do we accept the opinions of others as authoritative? We're just a second-hand book club if we do.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Adair & Harvey note his sentiments took place during the 3rd religious period in his life which was a cynical, opportunistic use of religion, particularly trying to initiate a war against France and make enemy #1 out of the French sympathizer Thomas Jefferson.

He's also clearly attacking what he sees or what he's trying to portray as France's slide into atheism. The "theistic rationalists" like Jefferson, Franklin and J. Adams supported "religion" and whether they supported the French revolution, they did NOT approve of the level of its hostility to Christianity.

Hamilton at this time still had not yet joined a Church.

Let me also note that OFT has an irritating and unscholarly habit of putting words in parenthesis that don't exist in the original. Hamilton does say King of kings, but not Jesus Christ. If you must add or change, brackets not parenthesis are the appropriate convention.

It's reasonable to think Hamilton referred to Him as "King of kings." But it still doesn't prove Hamilton was yet a Christian. It could be a convention like "In the Year of the Lord." Indeed, I still use "AD" and I often capitalize the H when I speak of Jesus because that's also a cultural convention. Someone reading my comments out of context could conclude I am an orthodox "born again" Christian like OFT and Hercules Mulligan so often do with America's Founders.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As I'm not fond of defending David Barton except on principle, so too with OFT. I do remind him when I find his epistemology wanting. As for King of Kings, that it would refer to anyone else than Christ would be hard to prove. Hamilton seems genuinely scandalized by the anti-Christian behavior of the French Revolution. See also this "fragment," which sees tyranny in godlessness.

I don't accept his thesis in toto, but OFT has several good pieces of evidence, and a legitimate argument that using "key" Founders [who kept their theologies secret!] to characterize the Founding may be cheating the argument.

bpabbott said...

Jon: "Sorry OFT but the historians who have studied this in detail -- I'll appeal to Adair & Harvey's authority -- conclude Hamilton didn't become an orthodox Christian till the very end of his life. He certainly didn't speak like one until the very end."

hmmm ... perhaps an inappropriate choice of wording.

I'm confident that historians do not make a habit of making such claims in the absence of compelling evidence. If there is evidence there is no need for an appeal to authority.

Appeals to authority should never be tolerated in objective pursuits (history, science, etc).

Actually, I don't much care for them in ideological pursuits either, but that is where they flourish :-(

Jonathan Rowe said...

Appeals to authority should never be tolerated in objective pursuits (history, science, etc).

Maybe it's because I am attorney and arguments from authority are not fallacious according to our rules. :)

Seriously though Adair & Harvey DO have good reasons for concluding why Hamilton wasn't an orthodox Christian until sometime near his death. I've repeated them before on my blogs but perhaps I should do a new post which stresses more Hamilton's opinion on communion and the fact that he had not yet joined a church before he died. I didn't stress that point as much in my earlier posts on Hamilton's religion. The kind of orthodox Christianity in which Hamilton believed saw the Lord's Supper as a central "ordinance"; yet you received the sacrament by being a Church member. That Hamilton hadn't even gotten around to joining a church and wasn't receiving communion evidences just how much of a newbie Christian he was when he died.

bpabbott said...


From what I've read of Hamilton, I don't think the qualification that he was a newbie Christian. However, I see no evidence that he was orthodox in his views either.

While I find it unlikely Hamilton subscribed to any formal Christian doctrine, he did appear to associate himself with Christianity (at least his flavor of it).

Jonathan Rowe said...

While I find it unlikely Hamilton subscribed to any formal Christian doctrine....

At his death he begged for the Lord's Supper. Something which he probably wasn't receiving for most of his adult life.